In our last we alluded to the difficulty of giving a satisfactory idea of a work of fiction within the compass of a publication like ours; -- Novels are long, our sheet is short; they require much room to epitomise them, and we must consult the tastes of our readers for variety as well as – “the copious stories oftentimes begun,” which “End without audience, and are never done;” The embarrassment of which we have complained, is not diminished, when, instead of a single story, as is generally the case in such productions, we have many stories, as is the case in the particular production before us. Mrs. Opie is not satisfied with one stroke, but cuts again and again, in every possible direction, like a skilful dragoon at his sword-exercise, till she accomplishes her purpose, which, to her honour be it recorded, is invariably to destroy Vice and protect Virtue.
There is something, we feel, acquired by the constant habit of reading books for the purpose of delivering an opinion upon them, which is not favourable to too kind a judgment upon those of fancy and imagination. We become rigid in our censures; we look much at small faults; we examine and criticize the composition, the style, the connexion of incidents, the dramatic effect, the whole minutiae of literary execution, as well as the more obvious scope of the invention. This is evidently too severe a trial; and though Mrs. Opie has little reason to dread it, many novel-writers would be justified in appealing from the tribunal, to the sense of that class of the community whose tastes and inclinations are chiefly studied in such performances. We are glad, therefore, under such circumstances, and with these impressions on our mind, to gather the sentiments of some intelligent female friends before we pronounce sentence upon works of this kind. One of the most celebrated dramatic writers that ever lived, used to read his Comedies to an ancient servant, and if she did not laugh, he returned with the piece to his closet; but if she enjoyed the humour heartily, he received it as a sure token of public success. Fortified in a similar manner by the opinions of more competent intellects, we hesitate not to say, that the unanimous testimony of mothers, wives, and daughters, is decidedly in favour of these NEW TALES. They say that they inculcate nothing but what is pure and good. They amuse while they instruct; and plant the scions of sound principles, together with the flowers of fancy. Their interest is sufficient to excite mature attention, and their morality eminently calculated to improve youth.
This is a high character, and we assent to its being deserved. All the Tales are praiseworthy, and several of them excellent. Each volume has two, except the last, which has three. Of the whole, we prefer that entitled, White Lies,” in the second volume, for its admirable exposition of the sin and shame of the practice known under that flattering name; --the Tale of Trials,’ in volume third, for its incidents and pathos; and the Ruffian Boy,’ in the last, for its dramatic interest and effect. The Odd-tempered Man,’ is, we trust, rather too much of an exception to human nature to be very applicable as a moral rule: not so the Young Man of the World,” a charming lesson of filial piety, though not of the highest claims as a fable. Mrs. Arlington, or all is not gold that glitters,” also inculcates in an agreeable way, the useful precept of contentment with our own estate.
It would be too much for us to epitomize all these Tales, but we shall so far follow our accustomed path, as to give the outline of one of them, and a specimen from which the rest may be estimated: --
White Lies is founded on that too seldom checked propensity for telling apparently slight falsehoods, which do not seem to threaten any evil consequences. Clara Delaney and Eleanor Musgrave, two cousins and co-wards of Mr. Morley, are contrasted; the former being a strict adherer to truth, the latter inclined to disregard it in those trifles which occur in every-day life. These different qualities have a striking influence upon the future fortunes of the young ladies.
To annoy a Mrs. Sommerville, Eleanor gives her gasconading account of a splendid entertainment at a Mrs. Harrison’s: she sanctions a slanderous misrepresentations of a Lady Sophia Mildred, through which a respectable teacher, Mr Bellamy, is considered an inhuman man, and has the son of Sir R. Mildred taken from under his tuition. Upon these two variations from sincerity and truth, a good deal afterwards hinges. Sydney Davenant, an old connection of the families of Delaney and Musgrave, returns from India, every thing that woman could desire in a husband. His preference is for the best of the two cousins; but by the arts and falsehoods of Miss Musgrave (the evil habit growing upon her,) he is detached from Clara, and becomes the betrothed of Eleanor. We need not dwell on the many troubles into which this young lady is plunged, in order to maintain her deceptions unmasked: -- they are well contrived, and after various discoveries and escapes from duels, &c. the confidence of Davenant in his bride is dreadfully shaken. It turns out now that the Harrison family have been utterly ruined by the severity of Mr. Somerville, (the principal creditor of Harrison in an unfortunate turn of his affairs) inflamed by the envious representations of his wife respecting their extravagance, as related by Eleanor. It also happens, that Mr. Bellamy is prevented from obtaining a desirable promotion, in consequence of the ill opinion expressed towards him by Sir R. Mildred. Both these events come under the cognizance of Davenant, together with other falsehoods and misconduct, no longer to be concealed, and he renounces the detected and humbled Miss Musgrave for the noble-minded and sincere Miss Delancy. The latter leads a subsequent life of honour and happiness; the former of contempt and misery. The lesson is further improved by rendering Mr. Morley also too regardless of strict veracity, which involves him in a proper proportion of his Ward’s shame and punishment.
Our extract must be brief: we take it from the Tale of Trials. A daughter, whose father has disowned her for a worthless second wife, seeks her parent when robbed and deserted during the plague of London. She obtains admission to his infected abode, and thus describes it: --
[quotes from “Tale of Trials”]
The rest of this colloquy is, if possible, more affecting; but we can only add, that the filial duty of Angèle is rewarded by the restoration of her parent, after she has intrepidly resisted an attempt to rob and assassinate him, proving that an affectionate woman is as heroic in the moment of danger, as soft and soothing in the hour of sickness and disease.
To conclude, we most heartily recommend these Tales to every class of readers, and especially to families who wish to cultivate the virtues in their rising progeny. Sometimes the incidents and dialogue are a little artificial, but there is not one sentiment which it is not desirable to impress deeply on the youthful mind.